Let’s face it, the novel coronavirus put a crimp in most everything planned, including summer getaways and vacations. What is a family supposed to do after months cooped up in quarantine and a spike in COVID-19 cases elsewhere in the country? Head to the greater outdoors, of course, and camping, particularly with a recreational vehicle, seems to be the popular answer, whether they are camping veterans or first-timers.
“People are definitely camping more than ever,” says Sunny Berlin of Sunny Day Camper Rentals, which she runs with her fiancé Charlie Liotta in Farmingdale.
They noticed a boom in inquiries and then reservations to rent a pop-up camper or travel trailer about three weeks ago. “All of a sudden everybody was willing to do something, but no one wants to fly anywhere. Camping is the best and safest route to enjoy a vacation with the family,” Liotta says.
Nationwide, RV sales are reportedly off the charts, but some families have reached out to rental companies to try camping for the first time. “Everything they did have planned is pretty much canceled,” Liotta says of his new customers. “They say, ‘We weren’t going to do this, we’re going to make this our number one vacation for the year. Go all out and spend.’”
“I think a lot of them had cabin fever,” Berlin adds. “They want to do something for their families and this is it.”
The biggest question they are receiving has been about the cleaning process and if each camper is sanitized thoroughly in between rentals.
The couple not only rents out campers, but will also deliver them to Long Island campsites, set everything up, go over how to use various amenities, and then, when getaway is over, come pack it all up. All vacationers have to do is show up. There is a two-night minimum, but many are asking for a week-long rental or longer.
Last weekend, Liotta and Berlin were at Hither Hills State Park in Montauk, where they set up a festive and patriotic themed site. Hither Hills, a 1,755-acre spread overlooking the ocean, is the most popular of the campgrounds. The outer beaches at Montauk County Park and Shinnecock East in Southampton, also a county park, are also among the most popular, which are often booked up nearly a year in advance.
However, Liotta says reservations can still be found, particularly because of cancellations from out-of-towners due to COVID-19. There is especially availability in less popular parks, like Cedar Point County Park, up in the Northwest Woods of East Hampton.
Cedar Point, a 607-acre park with a campground a short distance from Gardiner’s Bay, is one of Amagansett native Shayla Bennett’s favorite spots to camp. She and her husband, Steve Bennett, spent five days there, grilling, making s’mores by the fire, and playing cornhole with friends who joined them. “We went for a nice walk around the park and to the beach almost every day we were there,” she says. Even the family dog, Indiana, went for a swim.
Bennett says she thought it was more quiet than usual because the park is only currently opened to county residents, which she felt was nice. “It seemed most people were staying at their sites and if not, they were keeping distance from other people. I felt very comfortable being there. Everyone was very pleasant as usual when you go camping,” she says. “Campers across the way even came over to ask if we had maple syrup, but that’s how it is when you’re camping.”
While she had her most recent trip booked months in advance, she was able to book more after the county’s reservation system opened up in late May, and they are heading back to Cedar Point for the Fourth of July.
Chris Hren, an East Hampton resident, agrees with Bennett that the county’s reservation system was difficult to use—in fact County Executive Steve Bellone said it crashed almost immediately when it was reopened. “I went on when they reopened the reservation system. It took a couple hours and a lot of patience, but I got three reservations,” Hren says.
The aggravation was well worth it though. “Just to get away from all the typical stresses that come this time of year and spend the family time,” he says. “This year, it brought a sense of normalcy to things.”
Jeff Miller, who lives in Springs, says he couldn’t wait to get back to a campground with his travel trailer. He got his wish for an extended Father’s Day weekend with his wife and their daughter Gabby at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead, a 275-acre park near Flanders Bay. “My wife and I were saying, I don’t think we’ve ever looked so forward to camping in my life. And we’re going to Riverhead—28 miles from home,” he says with a laugh.
They arrived on a Wednesday, when it was relatively quiet, but activity picked up as the weekend drew near. Miller said he noticed more county park police presence riding around, checking to make sure there were no visitors at the campsites. If they saw an extra car, the officer stopped and spoke to them. “They were very vigilant in keeping an eye on overcrowding and such,” he says.
For the most part, people followed social distancing and wore masks. In the section that has powers for the RVs, the campers back up to one another. He saw a couple of examples of people converge in the middle, socializing, but generally he felt comfortable, adding that common sense prevailed. “I didn’t have one concern at all.”
Suzanne Bennett, also of Amagansett, and her family usually start their camping season with their RV in March—and keep going through Thanksgiving. “It’s our home away from home,” Bennett says. “So missing those months was a bummer, however we were taking no chances on being part of the problem.” They had a trip planned to Gettysburg, P.A., in April, but canceled “to do our part” in flattening the COVID-19 curve.
Their first trip of the season was to the outer beach on the north side of Montauk last week, and they even continue to work during the day while camping bayside at night. “Just being able to get out and enjoy the fresh air and that view in the morning, drinking coffee, is so relaxing in the morning. Although when you have to go into the office when you stay out there it does make it hard to leave….”